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Bambeco finds its green niche

By Samantha Lozano, Marketing and Communications, Department of Business and Economic Development

Following a career that took her to Williams-Sonoma, The Gap, Sports Authority and Staples, e-commerce executive Susan Aplin struck out on her own after finding inspiration on an Alaskan glacier in July 2005.

“To think about a glacier receding a mile a year, that was just staggering to me,” she said.

Aplin made the “easy changes” to shrink her carbon footprint after she returned home from vacation.

But she knew it wasn’t enough.

Susan Aplin, CEO of Bambeco, holds up a bulb on a strand of the company’s solar-powered Aurura Glow String Lights.

So, she and Carolyn Wapnick launched Bambeco on April 22, 2009 — Earth Day. The online retailer sells green home furnishings and décor, ranging from solar-powered tea lanterns, to recycled scrap steel trash bins and bicycle chain bottle openers.

“I wanted to extend those values across the home,” Aplin said. “I found through extensive research across Europe and America that there weren’t any sexy and hot products for the home that were good and affordable. They just didn’t exist.”

The company, founded in West Virginia, moved to Baltimore in 2010. The following year, the Department of Business and Economic Development invested $100,000 in Bambeco through the Maryland Venture Fund.

Aplin had considered California, Pennsylvania, Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. She was attracted to this region’s efforts to improve public transportation, incentives for eco-friendly businesses and proximity to the Port of Baltimore.

Now in its third year, Bambeco has seen more than 1,000 percent year-over-year growth, according to Aplin. The company has 16 employees and Aplin anticipates hiring 10 or 11 more this year.

Bambeco sells merchandise made with sustainable practices and of eco-friendly materials. Each vendor goes through a 20-page evaluation that dissects products’ origin, production and certification.

Its products include briefcases made from recycled truck tires with seatbelt shoulder straps, mollusk shell plates from the Philippines and cups carved from naturally-shed bison horns. The company also sells hemp dog collars, organic cotton dog beds and other pet supplies.

Bambeco’s products have been featured by USA Today, Every Day with Rachael Ray, People Magazine, The Today Show and Emmy-winning sitcom Modern Family.

Aplin said the company plans to add more furniture to Bambeco’s product offerings and is preparing to launch bambecokids.com.

“We are going to leverage the brand and extend it across this market,” she said.

Aplin said Bambeco plans to put its products in brick-and-mortar retailers this year and early next year, and left open the possibility that the Bambeco would one day open its own stores.

The company will soon outgrow its 5,900-square-foot space in what once was a warehouse for a convenience store chain in Curtis Bay. Aplin is looking for up to 20,000 square feet of office and warehouse space in the city and Baltimore and Prince George’s counties.

Most of what Bambeco sells does not carry the company’s name, but Aplin said the company plans to shift that balance, and would like sell more products made in Maryland.

“About 40 percent of our products are exclusive to the company,” she said. “By the end of this year, our goal is to have 90 percent under the Bambeco brand.”

While the eco-friendly approach sets Bambeco apart now, Aplin expects others will catch up.

“In 10 years … every product will be sustainable. And we’ll be duking it out over price, quality and style.”

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